Wales, Cardiff, St. Fagan

Today we notched another country on our belts and had a major argument with the sat nav, aka GPS. Our destination was St. Fagans National Museum of History, in the Village of St. Fagans, near Cardiff in Wales. No sooner had we gotten out of the car park in Bristol, then the sat nav announced, “They may not allow parking on site for your destination. Would you like to search for nearby car parks?” No, I want to know how to get out of Bristol. Meanwhile we are driving in Centre City, headed in some direction, which may or may not have anything to do with St. Fagan, caught up in the morning flow of cars, trucks, buses, and bicycles that all seem to know which lanes they want in the round-abouts. But she didn’t give up that easily, and kept insisting we needed to do something about parking at our destination, in spite of my waning confidence that we would ever reach any destination. She even had a list of villages in Wales that had parking and thought we should pick one. We ignored her and headed in what we thought was the direction of Wales.

We kept driving and she eventually relented and went back to just giving directions. We got there.

We never found out who St. Fagan was. The people at the museum didn’t know but he has a truly exception open-air museum of Welsh history. St. Fagans is an real village that was more or less viable until the mid-twentieth century. Now the whole town is a museum. Many of the buildings date to the 15th century.

15th Century Farmhouse, with Improvements from the 19th

The farmhouse was started in 1470 and was occupied by the same family until the late 1940s. The Napoleonic Wars made them, and many Welsh farmers, rich because they had crops to sell and most of England didn’t. The red color is on the house not the barn and was considered a status symbol because they could afford to add pigment to the lime paint. You could also see they were rich because the people and the animals lived in separate buildings.

After the Wars, and largely because of the Wars, the village could afford to build its own mill. It mostly used technology that had been around for a thousand years: an undershot water wheel turning a stone grinding wheel.  There were three levels. Bags of grain were stored on the upper level; the wheat was dumped down a chute into grist wheel, and flour was collected on the lowest level. It also had a smaller wheel for making white flour. First the wheat went into a cylinder (picture on the right) with brushes that scrubbed off the husks, then it dropped onto the wheel.

Two things struck me about the operation. Number one, it had an open fireplace on the grinding floor and the building has survived intact.  Second it was built less that 50 years before the Washburns built their A-Mill on St Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis using very different technology (although the same basic process.) (It hasn’t survived intact.)

Oakdale Workingman’s Institute

The most impressive building in town was not the church, but the Oakdale Workingman’s Institute. It reflected a great deal of civic pride and hope for their children. It was very much like a “settlement house” that most US cities had. They were major gathering places, informally anytime but also was the location of most community social events. It had a library and reading room, which offered the opportunity to get out of the dark, damp, cramped houses. They provided classes for the kids as well as a place to be where they wouldn’t get into too much trouble.

The village did have a chapel, which wasn’t as impressive as the red farm house. However, the museum has a larger church that was moved there about 40 years ago. On its original site it had been abandoned as a church and was being routinely vandalized. So they gave it to the museum.

Church relocated to St Fagans in the 1970s; Original Chapel is in the center built in the Twelfth Century; Left and Right Additions in the 16th Century

The main room was built in the 12th Century. A major addition was done in the early 16th Century, by a wealthy family who wanted a room of their own near the altar.

In the process of dismantling the building to move it to museum site, they found paintings that had been painted over with the standard white lime. This probably happened during the rampages of Oliver Cromwell, who sent out troops to destroy all the graven images that the Roman Catholics were so fond of. Anyway, because they had been painted over with paint that was relatively easy to remove, they know what all the pictures were and what pigments were used. The museum has nearly completed the task of recreating (not restoring) the paintings. The originals that could be saved have been removed to a dark, climate controlled facility.

Restored Paintings. This is in the 16th Century Addition looking into the 12 Century part. All the paintings were probably part of the 16th Century Renovation

Because the museum is Welsh National Monument, admission is free. They have on-site parking in spite of what Garmin thinks, which they sometimes, but not today, charge for. Most buildings are staffed by local volunteers, friendly, helpful, and anxious to find anybody to talk to (it rained much of the day.) The location is only a couple hours from Bath on the M4 and well worth the trip.

We didn’t see anything that could be called a mountain but we did see an Englishman walking up a hill.

Diolch yn fawr


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